Day 4- Local Government

Welcome to part 4 of my mapping the state blog. Today, I look at the local government, how you get elected, its strengths,weaknesses and its funding. Part 1 of the series is a look into the Judiciary and the Oireachtas, part 2 is is a look into the departments of local governments and ministries and part 3 is a look at Quangos.

In this part, I ask a series of questions in an attempt to find out more about local governments in Ireland.

Question 1: How do you get nominated to local government?

If you wish to be nominated to stand for election to a local authority in Ireland, there is a specific week in which you must be nominated. This week takes place 4 weeks before the polling day.

You may nominate yourself or be nominated by a local government elector registered in the area. You may be nominated to stand in more than one area.

Question 2: How do you get elected to local government?

Local elections are held in Ireland every 5 years in the month of May or June.  At these elections, members of the local community elect Councillors to represent the community in local authorities. At present, there are over 3 million local government electors in Ireland.

The number of Councillors that may be elected to each local authority changes from area to area.

The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government may divide each city or county area into smaller local electoral areas and may fix the number of Councillors that can be elected for each of these electoral areas.

The polling date is fixed by an order of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and is the same day in all of the local authority areas. The polling period must last at least 12 hours between 7.00 am and 10.30 pm.

The responsibility for conducting the election lies with the secretary or clerk of each local authority who acts as the returning officer. Each local authority pays the cost of running the election.

There is a week for nominating candidates to stand at local election; this takes place 4 weeks before the polling day

On the polling day, voters may vote by secret ballot in their local polling station. The electoral system is based on proportional representation with single transferable vote.

If a candidate is elected to more than one local authority area, he or she must declare in writing which area he or she wishes to represent within 3 days of the public notice of the results of the election.

Question 3: How does partisan party politics work at local level?

At government level, your vote will be dictated by the party whip. Each party will be told what they are going to vote on. In local government, the whip is not as strong and people are more likely to vote for what they want.

Question 4: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Irish local government?

Strengths:

Local authorities are able to adapt to local needs and react more quickly to local problems than central government. Councillors and officers have an understanding of the local area and can tailor policies to that area.

Local government is closer to the public and allows them to have a more direct voice in the running of services.  

Local government allows people from the political parties to gain experience in politics and gain knowledge of issues such as transport, education and social care.  

Weaknesses:

It could be argued that party politics is not relevant at the local level.  Decisions over local services should be made in terms of what is best overall.  
It is difficult to recruit capable people as Councillors at the local level.  Although Cabinet members and Mayors receive a full-time payment other Councillors do not.  Many Councillors are therefore older retired people.

Question 5: Where do local governments get their income?

The following are the sources of income that are available to local governments:

  • Good and services – Local authorities have powers to charge for services which they provide, for example, commercial water charges, housing rents, waste charges, parking charges, planning application fees. In most cases the charge or fee is set locally although certain charges or fees are fixed at national level.
  • Rates– Rates are levied annually by county, city, borough and certain town councils. Each of these authorities has exclusive rating jurisdiction within its own area. As a general rule, rates are levied on the occupiers of commercial property. Rates are assessed on the valuation of imoveable property such as buildings, factories, shops, railways, canals, mines, woods, rights of fishery and rights of easement over land.
  • Specific state grants– Specific State grants are paid to local authorities in respect of specific services/schemes, for example higher education grants, road maintenance grants, etc. by a number of government departments.
  • The Local Government fund (LGF)– The LGF is a special central fund which was established in 1999 under the Local Government Act 1998. It is financed by the full proceeds of motor tax and an Exchequer contribution. The Fund provides local authorities with the finance for general discretionary funding of their day-to-day activities and for non-national roads, and funding for certain local government initiatives. From 2014, the Minister for Finance will pay into the Local Government Fund an amount equivalent to the property tax paid during the year.
  • Community fund– An elected council may, by resolution, establish a separate ‘community fund’ to support specific community initiatives such as amenity, recreational, environmental or community development projects of benefit to the area concerned. Contributions to the community fund may be made by local voluntary, business or community groups, and may be raised by the local authority by way of a community initiative scheme.
  • The Environment fund– The Environment Fund is used primarily to support environmental initiatives, campaigns and programes, many of which are organised at local or regional level under the auspices of local authorities. The proceeds of the plastic bag levy, which is paid by consumers and collected from retailers by the Revenue Commissioners, are paid into the Fund.

       Where is local government money spent?

  • Housing
  • Roads
  • Water
  • Environmental services
  • Recreation and Amenities
  • Development Management
  • Other ( college grants, motor taxes etc)

Source of info: Publicpolicy.ie

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